The use of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) is common among breast cancer patients, but less is known about whether SCAM influences breast cancer survival. The primary aim of this recent study from Tunesia was to determine the impact of self-use of herbs on the overall survival of women with breast cancer.
The researchers conducted a prospective study including 110 patients with breast cancer. All patients were questioned about their usage of herbal remedies. The demographic data and the overall survival of the patients were then analyzed.
The average age was 51 years (30-80 years old). In total, 37 had metastatic disease (33.6%), and 48 patients had taken plant-based treatments (43.6%). Of those women, 19 patients consumed Graviola (39.6%) and 29 Alenda (60.4%). Overall survival rates at 3 years and at 5 years were 96.2% and 82.4% in the absence of herbal medicine usage versus 78.5% and 78.5% in the presence of herbal medicine use (p = 0.015).
The authors concluded that self-medication with Graviola or Alenda may be associated with an increase of death risk in patients with breast cancer. Further studies are needed to confirm these results.
This is only a small and not very rigorous case-control study. In itself, it would be far from conclusive. What renders it relevant, however, is the fact that its findings do by no means stand alone. We have seen several times on this blog that SCAM use can shorten the life of cancer patients, e.g.:
- More evidence that SCAM-use is associated with shorter survival of cancer patients
- Patients who received CM were more likely to refuse additional CCT, and had a higher risk of death. The results suggest that mortality risk associated with CM was mediated by the refusal of CCT.
- The use of CAM had significantly associated with delay in presentation and resolution of diagnosis.
- CAM did not provide any definite survival benefit, CAM users reported clinically significant worse health-related quality of life.
So, perhaps it is true? Perhaps using SCAM is not such a good idea, if you are suffering from cancer!
The mechanisms of such detrimental effects are not difficult to imagine. They might include direct effects on the cancer, interactions with prescribed drugs, delay of cancer diagnosis, or less strict adherence to the anti-cancer treatments.